The Twice Given Gift: A Love Story

Captain Smith and Pocahontas. Romeo and Juliet.[i] Their Bruno loves Noellelove can’t hold a candle to the love of Bruno and Noelle. Bruno is a young man who is completely infatuated by his beloved, Noelle. For years now, they have truly loved one another and constantly do little things to show their love. Life for them could not be better. One day, Bruno goes to great trouble and expense to obtain a rare, expensive gift for Noelle. Bruno has done his homework and discovered precisely what Noelle wants. In all honesty, Bruno clearly sees why Noelle loved this gift and even loves it himself. After he bought it, he considered, ever so briefly, just keeping it for himself. Although the gift was challenging to find and very expensive, it was worth everything to him to please his Noelle by gifting it to her.

The gift that Noelle desired, and Bruno had acquired for her, was a six-inch leaded-glass orb, perfectly clear, with ribbons of vibrant color dancing through the middle, swirling around each other, but always distinct. As you peer into this web of color, it is like looking at clouds on a warm summer day, where different images appear before your eyes. The globe is mesmerizing, and the workmanship without equal. If you were to be privileged to see this amazing globe, you would instantly understand why so many fairy tales incorporate a crystal ball. You would likely be tempted to peer into it for hours.

Bruno has arranged to meet Noelle, and with great anticipation, he presents the gift to her. She is shocked and overjoyed, moved to tears. She embraces Bruno, kisses him, and tells him how much she loves him. She praises his thoughtfulness and admires his dedication to get her exactly what she wanted. Bruno is happy, to say the least.

Noelle proudly displays this beautiful glass orb where it catches the sunlight, and she can see it often during the day. Every time she sees it, she is reminded of Bruno. Everyone who comes to see Noelle, and there are many, also loves to gaze at this amazing work of art. This gives Noelle the opportunity to regularly brag of Bruno’s generosity and love in offering it to her.

Ah, but then Margie comes into the picture. Margie has known Noelle for years and has always felt inferior to her. Margie realizes just how precious this gift is to Noelle. So one day, she sneaks into Noelle’s home and steals the globe out of jealousy, spite, and hatred. Noelle is distraught when she notices her globe missing. It is always displayed in the same place of prominence. Then when Noelle discovers Margie’s treachery, she is outraged. And Margie has the audacity to brag about her misdeed and besmirch the value of Noelle’s great gift. No words can express the boiling wrath that Noelle feels towards Margie. Noelle remains all but inconsolable for days and days.

Bruno can barely stand to see the pain that his gift has now caused Noelle. If only he had never given her the globe, she would not be in such sorrow now. But as Bruno aches for his love, he ponders how he might make things right and devises a plan. As much as he is repulsed by Margie, he sets up a meeting with her. Only because of his great love for Noelle, he negotiates with Margie to see if he can work out an arrangement. Margie ultimately agrees to sell the gift back to Bruno, but for much, much more than what it cost Bruno originally. Bruno is outraged that Margie would delight in causing Noelle so much grief and hold her prized gift as a ransom. But Bruno decides it is the only way. The next day, Bruno empties his bank accounts, sells his car, his guitar, and everything else he owns of any value. By doing so, he scrapes up just enough money to repurchase the globe from Margie.

Late one night, per Margie’s demands, Bruno and Margie meet, and the exchange is made. Bruno gets home and opens the sack to inspect the globe. Only then does he discover that not only had Margie stolen the precious crystal globe, but she had also defaced it. The ball had been dipped in tar, then rolled around on the ground, picking up dirt, pebbles, straw, and feathers. It was disgusting and smelled rancid – perhaps even a bit of skunk essence mixed in.

Anger renewed, Bruno begins painstakingly cleaning the gift so it might again be acceptable for Noelle. At first, it is simple work, removing large items from the exterior, but as Bruno continues working to restore the once magnificent globe, he finds each layer more difficult to remove. As he gets nearer and nearer to the glassy surface, he works painstakingly to remove only the disgusting tar, while not damaging the precious globe. Bruno labors for days removing the pernicious pitch. When finally the tar has all been removed, Bruno is disheartened to discover that the glass underneath still appears cloudy – the orb lacks its original luster. Days later, Bruno has been able to polish the orb to its original splendor. Perfect – except for one scratch that is so deep it cannot be removed. And that one deep scratch has required much attention, to ensure that none of the wretched tar has remained behind.

Satisfied that the orb has finally been returned to its original beauty, Bruno approaches Noelle. She is still profoundly saddened at the loss of her gift but presses on each day. Bruno calls Noelle to his side and tells her he has a little surprise for her that may cheer her a bit.

“Close your eyes, my love.”

Then Bruno brings the restored orb out and holds it before her.

“Noelle, you may open your eyes now.”

The look of shock and wonder on Noelle’s face is overwhelming. Her eyes widen and she lets out a shriek of joy. Noelle gently receives her resplendent ball, then sets it safely aside and throws herself into Bruno. She wraps her arms around him and kisses him over and over and thanks him as tears roll down her cheeks. Bruno’s heart is bursting inside his chest, seeing the delight of his beloved. And Noelle has never loved Bruno more.

Bruno quietly apologizes that he could not remove the one deep scratch.

Noelle replies, “No, Bruno, it is perfect. Every time I see that scratch, it will remind me even more of your boundless love for me.”

And they both lived happily ever after and the crystal orb was never disturbed again.

 

This parable is, of course, fictional, but I hope it will be a useful analogy. The great thing about analogies is they help us understand difficult things by relating them to something we already understand. The terrible thing about analogies, is they are never perfect, and if we press the details, they are never completely accurate.

But let me explain my parable to you and you can decide if this rings true. Noelle represents God the Father, and Bruno is Jesus, His beloved Son. Margie is Satan. And the beautiful orb? That would be you and me – and every other person in all of history.

I believe in the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are One Being, yet three Persons. This is difficult for us to understand since we humans are constrained to only one person per being.[ii] But God does not have human constraints. From before the dawn of time, the Father, the Son and the Spirit all loved One another and lived together in perfect harmony. Yet They agreed that the introduction of intelligent creatures with free will that would be able to share in their love would be good.[iii] The Bible also tells us that all things were created by Jesus Christ.[iv]

My hypothesis is that, in some measure, Adam and Eve, and all their offspring, were created by Jesus and presented to the Father as a precious gift. The Father delights in His people, Jesus is delighted both by His people and that His Father loves them so. The Spirit, who has breathed life, both physical and spiritual, into these creatures, delights in the joy of both the Father and the Son. Love has expanded by the creation of these magnificent creatures called humans.

But the Bible tells us that Satan was jealous of God,[v] and I believe he may have been particularly envious of people. Why would God delight so much in these measly humans when Satan himself was such a wonderous being? So Satan bewitched Adam and Eve into disobeying God[vi]and stole all of humanity from the Father. Since the crystal orb represents humanity, my analogy falters some at this point. For in the story, the sphere did not reject Noelle. But we, Jesus’ gift to the Father, have all turned against the Father of our own free wills.[vii]

But the analogy gets back on track since Jesus paid the highest price to buy back His gift, to redeem humanity, and present us back to the Father. Jesus did not just sell His earthly possessions, but He paid with His lives. Lives? Jesus was executed by the Romans on a cross on Golgotha, and His physical body died. But at that same moment, suspended in time, Jesus died spiritually as well. Jesus, the Son of God, Who delighted in the love of His Father before there was a creation, was suddenly cut off from the Father.[viii] Jesus experienced the full just wrath of His Father, that was rightfully directed to His disobedient, hateful people, and experienced spiritual death on our behalf. [ix] At that critical moment in history, God died. The Son and the Father, two Persons in One Being, were somehow separated.

Jesus bought back His gift at great personal expense[x] and presented redeemed humanity back to the Father.[xi] His Father was delighted, overjoyed. But here is the mystery that my analogy cannot begin to explain. God the Father raised God the Son, Jesus, back to life – both physical and spiritual.[xii] The Triune God has been made whole again. God, One Being, is once again Three in One – Father, Son, and Spirit, and Their joy and love for One another has been elevated, assuming that is even possible for God.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His resurrected body was not completely restored. “Put your finger in the holes in my hand, touch the hole in my side.”[xiii] Jesus will bear the wounds that redeemed us as an eternal reminder of His great love both for His Father and for us. As Michael Card so aptly put it, “When the kingdom comes with its perfected sons, He will be known by the scars.[xiv]

So each time a man, woman, boy or girl, repents and gives their life to Jesus, another person has been regifted to the Father. The Scriptures tell us that there is rejoicing in heaven whenever someone repents.[xv] I believe the angels dance and hoot and holler. But the One who rejoices the most is God – the Father rejoicing in having His precious gift returned, the Son at the joy He has given to the Father, and the Spirit that He could move the heart of one more beloved soul to bring such joy to the two Persons He loves most.

[i] Fever, Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley, 1956. Verses 3 and 4.

[ii] Another imperfect image is Siamese twins – two separate souls sharing parts of one body.

[iii] Genesis 1:26

[iv] Colossians 1:16

[v] Isaiah 14:12-14

[vi] Genesis 3:1-7

[vii] Isaiah 53:6

[viii] Matthew 27:46

[ix] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[x] 1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Peter 1:18-19

[xi] Isaiah 44:22, Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:22

[xii] Acts 2:32

[xiii] John 20:27

[xiv] Michael Card, Known By the Scars, 1984.

[xv] Luke 15:7, 10

greatest expression of praise and worship

Seeking is the greatest expression of praise and worship. By persistently seeking God, we declare that he is supremely desirable. To seek God is to glorify God, that is, to declare his supreme worth. We might declare with our lips that God is worthy of all praise, but we demonstrate what is truly worth the most to us by what we pursue. The psalms in which people seek God, even from the most alienated positions, are truly psalms of praise and worship, perhaps even more so than those that explicitly make declarations of praise and worship.

Matthew Jacoby, Deeper Places, page 96.

church caused spiritual agony

We turn corners in our own lives when we decisively commit to “have this mind” in us also, much like Hudson Taylor’s transformative time on Brighton Beach in the summer of 1865. He recorded afterwards that while in a corporate worship service home in England after spending some preliminary time in China, his stomach turned and he couldn’t stay in the room:

“Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the LORD conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told Him that all the responsibility as to issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant, it was mine to obey and follow Him – His, to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labour with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?”

Stephanie Quick, To Trace A Rising Sun, p. 138-139.

the truth makes us happy

People have got into their heads an extraordinary idea that English public-school boys and English youth generally are taught to tell the truth. They are taught absolutely nothing of the kind. At no English public school is it even suggested, except by accident, that it is a man’s duty to tell the truth. What is suggested is something entirely different: that it is a man’s duty not to tell lies. So completely does this mistake soak through all civilisation that we hardly ever think even of the difference between the two things. When we say to a child, “You must tell the truth,” we do merely mean that he must refrain from verbal inaccuracies. But the thing we never teach at all is the general duty of telling the truth, of giving a complete and fair picture of anything we are talking about, of not misrepresenting, not evading, not suppressing, not using plausible arguments that we know to be unfair, not selecting unscrupulously to prove an ex parte case, not telling all the nice stories about the Scotch, and all the nasty stories about the Irish, not pretending to be disinterested when you are really angry, not pretending to be angry when you are really only avaricious. The one thing that is never taught by any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is exactly that—that there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it we are happy.

G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

the designated means of mercy

Missions is not about anything more or less than the simple delivery of the beautiful message: Behold, God is great, and we can know him in Christ. We can be reconciled to God in Christ. We can become what we’re built to be – in, through, by and for Jesus, because Jesus. This message is the designated means of mercy, and therefore must be verbally declared and tangibly demonstrated. It is the privilege of the people of Jesus to represent Him where He is not known.

Stephanie Quick, To Trace a Rising Sun, page37

science cannot define morality

One of the world’s most prominent philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, was for decades a defender of the Enlightenment view that only secular reason should be used in the public square. Habermas has recently startled the philosophical establishment, however, with a changed and more positive attitude toward religious faith. He now believes that secular reason alone cannot account for what he calls “the substance of the human.” He argues that science cannot provide the means by which to judge whether its technological inventions are good or bad for human beings. To do that, we must know what a good human person is, and science cannot adjudicate morality or define such a thing. Social sciences may be able to tell us what human life is but not what it ought to be.”

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p.12

Nikki at Night

It was a warm Thursday night in July. As was my regular practice, I was on my way after work to visit my dad in the Alzheimer’s unit where he lived. As I drove east towards his home, I glanced out the window to my left, and saw a gorgeous deep blue sky with brilliant sunshine on the green trees. Then I looked out the window on the passenger side. The sky there was black and boiling, like some evil rolling in, much as you would see in a science fiction movie. A massive front was moving through the area, and I was driving right along the dividing line separating these colliding masses of warm and cool air.

It had been a pretty rotten day. I just wanted to get home, relax, and get to bed early. So, I decided to eat a quick dinner and keep my visit short to try to beat the weather home before dark. I got to the wing my dad lived in at the home. Then I coaxed him out of his room with my usual ploy – a dish of Culver’s chocolate frozen custard. We talked a bit, which was difficult since he didn’t know who I was. By this time though he that he was in his teens. One evening a nurse said, “George, your son is here” and he told her she was crazy –  he was much too young to have any children! So from that time on I always called him George.

But this stormy night, I was eager to keep things short and sweet. I was focused on getting home before the storm let loose. I wolfed down my frozen custard and was just standing up to leave when the announcement came across the overhead speakers. We were under a tornado warning – meaning tornadoes had been spotted – and the building was locked down. I was disappointed but decided I would just have to wait a bit for the warning to pass and then head home. What I didn’t realize was that the front, instead of moving north or south, was moving due east, in a straight line, staying right above us.

I decided to help the staff as all the residents needed to be moved out of their rooms. We moved everyone to the interior of the building where they would be away from windows and safe from the raging storm outside. We could hear it now, the rain pounding the roof and the windows. And we tracked the storm on my Blackberry, which became more discouraging as time went on. John kept insisting that there was no storm, “they” were making it up. And he needed a cruller. And a beer. He kept reminding us he needed a beer about every 5 minutes. Judy, as usual, would cry out every few minutes – “Help! Help! I need my blanket.” Mary would grab me and not let go. I think she liked me, though I never heard her speak. She would always smile and tweet like a bird at me when she saw me. “Help! Help! I’m too hot!” “I need a cruller. And a beer.” My dad was quietly dozing at the table.

I was quite tired –  two and a half hours later –  when they finally announced that the tornado warning had ended. The building was no longer under lockdown. I fled as fast as I could, thrilled to see it was not raining as I ran to my car.

I started toward home, but then it started raining again. This was not a gentle summer shower; this was punitive! After driving too fast at ten mph in a 40-mph zone with my windshield wipers on high, I finally eased my way to the freeway ramp. To my dismay, a county sheriff was blocking the ramp because the freeway was flooded. At this point I realized two things: 1) I was very thirsty and 2) it had been quite some time since I had used a bathroom. The brightly lit Burger King across the street suddenly looked rather inviting.

I pulled in and parked as close to the building as I could, waited a few minutes, then made a mad dash for the door. Once inside, I found I had joined a group of about a dozen people, all of whom were soaked to the bone with their hair plastered to their faces. They were sharing stories of how they had come to be abandoned at Burger King at 10:00 pm on this stormy July night. One mother and teenaged girl explained that they hit a huge puddle at a dip in the road, their car stalled, and they realized the car was being swept off the road. They both jumped out and ran the two blocks to Burger King. Others shared their equally exciting stories. But one woman mentioned how worried she was about the poor pregnant girl in the ladies’ room.

You couldn’t miss her when she finally came out of the ladies’ room. She was a pretty girl in her early 20’s. She wore a cute little top with spaghetti straps on and short blue jean shorts. And a bulge shouted that she was about six months along. But she was as blue as anyone I have ever seen. I immediately remembered that I had a blanket in the car. As much as I didn’t want to, I ran back to the car and grabbed the blanket, getting freshly drenched in the process. I ran back in and wrapped her in the blanket and asked a couple of the older ladies to put their arms around her to warm her up.

After a few minutes, I bought the young woman a hot chocolate, and we sat down in a booth together. Since just looking at each other was awkward, I decided that maybe we should talk. She told me her name was Nikki, and her car was nearby. But her car too had stalled, and she couldn’t get it started again. She had called her boyfriend, but he wouldn’t answer. Then she tried her parents, but the weather was too nasty so they wouldn’t come out for her. She was beginning to warm up a bit both physically and relationally. We continued to talk. Nikki was six months pregnant but struggling terribly. She had just found out that her boyfriend liked her a lot, but he liked his freedom even more. No way did he want to be tied down with a baby. So, the boyfriend had decided that it was time to break things off with Nikki. Next, Nikki’s boss told her she was being let go. Evidently, Hooters doesn’t think pregnant waitresses pull the patrons in very well. With no boyfriend and no job, Nikki could no longer afford her apartment, and she had been told she had to be out in less than two weeks. Out of desperation, she visited the minister at the church she grew up in. He explained to Nikki that since she was pregnant out of wedlock, there wasn’t anything they could do for her. Oh, and they would not baptize her child because the baby had been “conceived in sin.” By the time Nikki finished her story, her face was as wet from her tears as it was from the rain.

At this point God nudged me, and I began to explain the love of Jesus to Nikki. I was focused on her, but I noticed a couple of the others also edged a little closer, so they could overhear what I was saying. I explained that God’s love was unconditional, that nothing she had done was beyond what God could forgive and make right. I explained how Jesus wanted to be a part of her life, to help her through her difficulties. And as I shared the gospel with her, I saw hope in her eyes. I kept several Bibles in my car, just for cases like this (which had never happened before.) Once again, I ran to the car and back, this time to get a Bible for Nikki. In that short time, God spoke to me again. I had explained the gospel to her, was getting her a Bible, but I had not given her the opportunity to pray so as to ask Jesus into her life. When I got back in, I gave her the Bible and then asked her if should would like to pray with me. She said she really did want to. I had her repeat short phrases as I led her in a prayer to invite Christ into her life. She was still sopping wet, but you could see a difference in her face.

We used my phone to try to call her boyfriend and parents again. The storm had finally calmed down, so when we finally reached her father, he agreed to come to help her.

A short time later I pulled out of the Burger King parking lot. I was disappointed to see that the on-ramp to the freeway was still closed. But my heart was burning with joy. The next ramp was open, and I was flying down a nearly deserted freeway towards home.

As I drove home late that night, several things dawned on me. First, I realized I never had used the bathroom or eaten. But I recognized that even when I have a bad day and a lousy attitude, God can still choose to use me. Perhaps it was because I was at my weakest. I could not claim that this was because of anything I had done that day to produce spiritual results; God chose this day. And I realized there was no way I would ever have been at some Burger King 30 miles away from my home on a Thursday night. There was no way I would be talking to a Hooter’s waitress about God. But Jesus loves Nikki. He had a plan for her. So that night, God sent a wild storm and arranged for me to meet Nikki at that Burger King.

And one desperate, young woman who was herself bearing a child, became a child of God.

 

 

Closure:

I never heard again from Nikki. She comes to mind occasionally, and I always stop to pray for her and her child. I will never know in this life how Nikki is doing, but I have confidence that God knows and loves her intimately.